A transformative experience — that’s how Patton Dodd describes the H.E. Butt Foundation’s property, which has been flourishing thanks to land stewardship efforts.
“It feels like you’re crossing over into a different world,” said Dodd, the executive director of media and communications. “You’re caught up in the rhythms of the Frio River and of nature and of the silence that’s there. I think that’s why people find it transformative. It’s really a place that is set apart from everything else in your world.”
The organization was founded in 1934 by Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth and Howard Butt to cater to the needs they saw in the community at the time, Dodd said. Much of the organization’s work includes improving literacy, mental health care, hosting Christian retreats and partnering with organizations that serve vulnerable families.
“That’s taken a lot of different forms over time, but I think the common thread has been the property ... outside of Leakey, where we host
25,000 to 27,000 people a year,” Dodd said.
The conservation of that property is really important, Dodd added. This year, the foundation was awarded the Lone Star Land Steward Award from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department along with six others.
“It’s inspiring to see so much hard work going into ensuring the long-term health and beauty of our state’s natural resources,” said foundation president David Rogers.
Dodd added that the foundation’s current leadership is committed to upholding what past leadership has accomplished in the past, but has a greater emphasis on land stewardship.
“Mrs. Butt set a goal of making sure that the property looked in 100 years as good as it did when she first saw it,” Dodd said. “Careful stewardship of the land has always been part of the work that we do.”
A lot of what goes into this is plant management — encouraging native species to grow while discouraging non-native species. According to information from the National Audubon Society, a healthy population of native plants can allow native wildlife to flourish.
The foundation uses the property to host five different camp programs: Laity Lodge, Laity Lodge Youth Camp, Laity Lodge Family Camp, the H.E. Butt Foundation Outdoor School and the largest, the H.E. Butt Foundation Camps program, which bring in about 25,000 people a year alone, Dodd said.
“It’s a program where we make all of our facilities available free of charge to qualifying nonprofits, which mostly means nonprofits that serve vulnerable families and children,” Dodd said.
These families may not have access to quality education or health care, Dodd added. The foundation sees organizations in the H.E. Butt Foundation Camps program almost every night of the year.
As for new efforts, Dodd said the foundation is starting to expand into other communities. They have a new office in San Antonio that focuses on mental health research and have launched the Real County Community Initiative, which focuses on helping vulnerable families.
Dodd said it’s important to remember that the H.E. Butt Foundation is a separate organization from the grocery company.
“We’re often called H-E-B Camp, or H-E-B Foundation, and that’s not actually who we are,” Dodd said. “H-E-B has its own charitable giving operation that we’re not a part of.”